| Interview with minister of state for
information and broadcasting Ravi Shankar Prasad
legal stand on CAS is very clear"
|Posted on 09 june
These days information
and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad does not look uncertain
as he did some months back when he was allocated the I&B ministry
portfolio that, in political circles, is considered a graveyard
for the best of ministers. Even Sushma Swaraj, considered a strong
woman within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, could not survive
here long despite her stranglehold and `achievements.'
But there is a newfound aggressiveness that Prasad is flaunting
these days, which is sending out just one message: he and the government
mean business. As he thundered to a question on opposition to his
pet subject at the moment, CAS, "I would not get cowed down. I cannot
be cowed down." It is another thing that this lawyer-turned-politician
is also drawing power from the backing that he has got from the
Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister. His critics, of course,
describe his zeal for CAS a result of being cautioned by the Prime
Minister to ensure that the electorates are not alienated in the
government's bid to bring in some change. There is no denying that
political pressure has mounted and Prasad has to see the rough edges
in CAS are smoothened out, and quickly, before the bushfire of criticism
In this interview with indiantelevision.com's Anjan
Mitra, Prasad gamely takes on questions, mostly on CAS, even
as he says that his wife keeps on advising him that in this world
there are other things too, besides CAS. Excerpts from an interview
given recently after Prasad, along with some high-ranking officials
from his ministry, returned from a tour of Thailand and the UK where
he also spent time at the BBC office and visited BSkyB's facility.
How confident are you of a successful CAS rollout?
I am very confident that the government would successfully be
able to stick to its mandated 14 July deadline for rollout.
But some people are saying that a regulatory body should be
in place first before CAS is rolled out. What are your views on
I am not against a regulator per se. But things have to come
in place first before a regulator can come into existence. That
is what the government is trying to do.
But those who say that a regulator should be in place before implementation
of CAS, which is a consumer-friendly initiative, are out to frustrate
CAS' rollout. It is one of the desperate attempts by motivated people
and such logic would not influence me. Nobody can browbeat me and
I'll not get cowed down.
Moreover, a content bureau has been envisaged in the over-arching
Communication Convergence Bill, pending Parliament's clearance.
For a regulator, discussions at various levels, including political,
have to take place before a mechanism of that sort is put in place.
But is it only because of the consumer that you are insistent
on CAS? Apart from the critics of CAS, people also say the government
too, has an agenda.
Now, that's a new one that I am hearing. What can be the government's
agenda? The government's agenda is to implement initiatives that
are people-friendly. CAS is in the interest of the nation, consumer
and the market. If the television economy has to grow at the rate
of 17 per cent, then the whole system has to be made transparent
and the government is just trying to do that.
I know my responsibility and foremost is consumers' interest. All
these talks that are abounding in the media are sinister moves of
|"I am very confident that the government would successfully
be able to stick to its mandated 14 July deadline for rollout."
The question is why does the government have to step in to safeguard
consumers' interests, especially where television viewing is concerned?
In other sectors, market forces have taken care of such things?
Why did the government have to mandate CAS, which anyway was an
inevitability sooner or later?
The government never intended to intervene in the first place.
Let me tell you, it was initially thought, as you are pointing out,
that the players themselves would address the problem of addressability.
But that did not happen. The cable operators fought with the broadcasters
and the latter accused the cable operators of under-reporting. All
this while the consumer was suffering from arbitrary hikes in cable
TV viewing fees. This fight in urban areas was so intense that the
government had no option, but to step in to lessen consumer suffering,
which is what CAS aims to do.
I have been supplied a list by the industry now that shows that
in the basic tier of free to air channels there are 10 news channels,
18 entertainment channels, five movie channels and almost all the
regional channels. A little application will benefit a large section
of the society.
Do you think that it's the big broadcasters that are opposing,
or have been attempting to stall, implementation of CAS?
I would not like to name individuals, but I'd like to
be fair to all. I'd also like to appeal to all the stakeholders
of the industry to come together and join forces with the government
to make CAS a success. It's in the interest of all.
I have also made similar requests to broadcasters and let me tell
all that the government is equally aware of its powers in law. The
deadline for broadcasters to come out with the pricing of individual
channels remains 15 June.
Since the government has taken on the role of an arbiter, what
else, apart from mandating policies, is it doing to ensure a smooth
rollout of CAS? Is it importing the set top boxes?
It's not the government's duty to import boxes as the
government is not providing the service. People who are providing
the service, that is the cable operators, will do the imports.
It is in the interest of MSOs and the cable operators to get the
boxes and they have assured me that by 15 July about 2.7 million
boxes would be in the market for the consumer. I'll have to trust
them. Because unless the cable operators provide a good service
to the consumers, the cable industry would not grow.
can browbeat me and I'll not get cowed down."
| But broadcasters either control some major
MSOs or have sizeable interests in ground distribution. CAS may just
go on to make them more powerful. Is there any move to introduce a
cross-service restriction to see broadcasters don't have sizeable
interest in ground distribution?
At the moment, there are no such moves. Once CAS comes
into force, I am open to all such suggestions that may make the rules
more consumer friendly.
|"We have also been told that initially about 25 per
cent of the subscribers in the metros may opt for the STBs."
When do you think the second phase of CAS rollout would happen,
if at all it happens before the tenure of this government runs out
sometime next year?
We are concentrating on the first phase of implementation
at the moment. By the time the full rollout happens in the first
phase satisfactorily, we'd also have learnt from the experience.
And that would come handy during the second phase implementation.
But if you ask me to give a time frame for the second phase now,
I would not be able to do so.
Even if the MSOs, as reiterated by them, get in about 2.7 million
boxes into the country, there would be a large number of cable households
in the metros, estimated to be 6.4 million, that would have to do
without their favourite soaps and programmes most of which are primarily
on pay channels. There would be chaos and anger against the government
move. Your views on this.
I agree that on Day One of CAS rollout everybody may not go in for
a box. And rightly so because that's a typical Indian mentality
to wait and gauge the reaction to a new thing. We have also been
told that initially about 25 per cent of the subscribers in the
metros may opt for the STBs. Later the others will follow slowly.
To me that looks good enough because that will give the industry
too, time to understand the situation better.
Most of the boxes are being imported, a trend that cannot continue
for long as the tax sops introduced on imports of boxes is for a
limited period of time. What has happened to the so-called domestic
manufacturers who were crying hoarse they see an opportunity here?
Good question. All those people are playing the wait and watch
game. The Indian experience is that entrepreneurs watch the market
for some time before embarking on local production. Their argument
would be `maal bikega ya nahin' (would the product sell or not).
Once the Indian entrepreneurs are sure of the market of a product,
they'll join the race. It happened with manufacturing of TV sets
too. Earlier, TV sets used to be assembled here, but now domestic
and foreign manufactures actually produce TV sets in the country.
By extending duty relaxation on imports of STBs, we are trying
to ensure everybody that boxes have a future in the Indian market.
But Indian enterpreneurship should be, and would be, given a fair
chance to prove its mettle.
|"I see the boxes meant for CAS to be precursor to newer
technologies in India like DTH. It would also pave the way for a true
convergence era when there would be a super regulator for the sectors
of IT, broadcasting and telecom."
What is final gain that government sees emerging from CAS rollout?
I see the boxes meant for CAS to be precursor to newer
technologies in India like DTH. It would also pave the way for a
true convergence era when there would be a super regulator for the
sectors of IT, broadcasting and telecom. CAS would also help in
establishing India as the regional hub for entertainment as newer
products come into the country.
You seem so bullish on CAS. What if somebody goes to the courts
and gets a stay on CAS implementation?
This is a democratic country and I or the government cannot
stop anybody from appealing to the court. But let me assure you
that the government's legal stand on this is very clear and the
courts would be made aware of that. I also assure you that the best
legal strategy and best legal brains of the country would be made
available to defend the government stand.
By allowing FTV to have a dual feed (a diluted version in the
FTA mode, while the real, hot FTV in the pay mode is through CAS)
is the government paving the way for adult fare on television through
Who has said that FTV has been allowed to have a dual
feed. When I was in France recently, I told the head of FTV that
the issue of Indian sensibility has to be kept in mind. I was also
assured of this. Maybe, over a period of time a system gradually
evolves for what you are referring to as adult fare. But at the
moment, there are no such moves within the government.
When is the government going in for the much-talked about second
round of privatisation of FM radio?
Before doing that I want to have a clean slate. There are
quite a few problems and concerns in that sector, most of which
have been created by the private players themselves who bid very
high during the first round of licences issued. They were very well
aware of the ground realities,
I propose to set up a task force very shortly to make it pro-reforms
so that the radio revolution actually happens.
Do you propose to go in for revenue sharing instead of licence fee
as has been done in the telecom sector?
There is a justification in going for a revenue sharing model,
but at the moment I would not like to spell out the details. I'd
prefer the task force, which would comprise industry representatives
too, to thrash out the issues relating to radio.
Zee Telefilms, which wants to start a business news channel,
ZeeBiz, is yet to get a clearance from the ministry despite having
filed an application some two months back. Is there some problem
in Zee's application?
I haven't yet seen the relevant file so cannot answer the
question. I am sure, Zee's application would take its normal course
of various stages of clearances.
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